Institute of Archaeology


Project Debates

Key Debate 1: Single or Multiple Origins for Copper Metallurgy in Eurasia?

The appearance of copper ores and native copper throughout Eurasia (Roberts et al. 2009, Figure 1a)

The smelting of copper ores represents the earliest metallurgy – transformation of matter – in Europe and Asia.

It is traditionally interpreted as having been discovered only once (Wertime 1964). However, the application of radiocarbon dating led to a challenge of this model with multiple inventions proposed – including one independent trajectory of metallurgy in the Balkans (Renfrew 1969). 

The spread of copper smelting throughout Eurasia (Roberts et al. 2009, Figure 1b)

Two recent re-assessments of archaeological and archaeometallurgical evidence, both by members of the project, led to opposing interpretations.

This project seeks to make a major contribution to the debate on single vs. multiple origins of copper metallurgy (Roberts et al. 2009; and Radivojević et al. 2010 for opposing views).

Key Debate 2: How did pre-existing technological knowledge influence the emergence of metallurgy? 

Silvia Amicone preparing a petrographic pottery sample © Rise of Metallurgy in Eurasia project

Advances in pottery firing technology are commonly mentioned precursors of metallurgical pyrotechnology, especially as the development of metallurgy in the Balkans is broadly paralleled by the emergence of black burnished pottery and graphite painting decoration (Renfrew 1969; Gimbutas 1976). In that respect, the exact control of firing conditions that was needed for these techniques is generally seen as an important indicator for the awareness among Vinča potters of certain ceramic thermal properties (Kaiser and Voytek 1983; Kaiser 1986; Goleanu et al. 2005).

The relationship between pottery and metal production in Vinča culture will be explored through a PhD undertaken by Silvia Amicone under the supervision of Prof Thilo Rehren, together with Dr Patrick Quinn (ceramic petrography) and Dr Miljana Radivojević(archaeology). 

This PhD research aims to test the validity of this claim through the application of different analytical methods, tracing technological links between the two pyrotechnologies in the Vinča culture. Moreover, this includes the reconstruction of the locations and types of raw material sources that were used as well as the specific production steps involved. 

To do this, Silvia will apply several methods, including thin section petrography, energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence (ED-XRF), X-ray diffraction (XRD) and scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive spectrometry (SEM-EDS) to selected samples originating from ceramic assemblages from Belovode and Pločnik, two early 5th millennium BC sites in Serbia, where the earliest known metallurgical activities developed.

A selection of the Vinča culture pottery under analysis – including the black burnished ware © Rise of Metallurgy in Eurasia project

Particular emphasis will be placed on the black burnished pottery; however, for an unbiased assessment of the relevant evidence, a representative selection of all types of pottery fabrics will be sampled and studied in detail. It is expected that this analysis will enable us to substantially support or refute the proposed technological relationship between pottery firing and the invention of extractive metallurgy.

Furthermore, this project combines archaeological and scientific information within an integrated programme of research under a cross-craft prospective (Miller 2007). This could not only contribute to shed new light on the validity of the claim which sees a connection between pottery firing and the invention of extractive metallurgy, but will also allow a better understanding of the broad technological and social context of Vinča culture.

Key Debate 3: How was Early Metal Production organised and how did it evolve through time?

Understanding how the early metallurgy was organised and how it evolved represents a significant challenge. There are many widely held but largely untested assumptions. These involve issues such as specialisation, societal complexity and ritual behaviour. This project involves a systematic and interdisciplinary approach using sites and assemblages of a high archaeological and archaeometallurgical resolution which will evaluate the many interpretative models.

Unexpectedly, our results at Belovode suggest the co-existence of two industries, copper smelting and bead making, using minerals of different qualities from different sources (Radivojević et al. 2010). Manganese-rich copper ore was used for smelting, and pure malachite minerals for bead making. Our current research indicates that craft interaction between cold bead processing and high-temperature technology might have stimulated and shaped the emergence of metallurgy. Testing this hypothesis requires integrated field, compositional and provenance investigation on minerals, slags, crucibles and metal artefacts.

Key Debate 4: Where did the early copper objects come from?

The vast quantities of copper metal objects throughout the Balkans during the 5th millennium BC such as the Pločnik hammer axes together with the large copper mining sites such as Rudna Glava have frequently encouraged debates as to the primary sources for the copper ore. 

Copper implements from Pločnik, selected samples © D. Antonović, Archaeological Institute Belgrade

The distribution patterns across the Balkans have successfully been addressed with provenance analysis of 5th millennium BC artefacts (Pernicka et al. 1993; Pernicka et al. 1997). The unexpected complexity of these patterns became evident from recent research where metal from at least five sources, including Belovode, was being used at Pločnik alone, none of which included Rudna Glava (Radivojević et al. 2010).

Key Debate 5: Is there a Polymetallic (R)evolution in the Balkans during the mid 5th Millennium BC?

The recent analysis of a tin-bronze object in a secure excavated context at Pločnik dating to the mid-5th millennium BC means that we can identify the contemporary use of four metals within the Balkans. 

Whether it is the gold at Varna, Bulgaria; the silver at Alepotrypa cave, Greece; or the copper throughout the Balkans, the mid-5th millennium BC in the Balkans appears as the time of the polymetallic (r)evolution (Radivojević et al. forthcoming).

Although the typology and composition of early copper artefacts in the Balkans have been well studied (e.g. Todorova 1981), little has been done to explore the relationship of artefacts to production sites. We will use this data and evaluate it against the existing and prospective results of provenance studies. The expected outcome will be mapping of the movement of early metals, providing insights into the circulation of both raw materials and finished objects.